Adrenaline – A Simple Guide for Writers (Guest Post by Toni Pike)

This is a simple guide to adrenaline and its effects on the human body. An adrenaline rush is often referred to as the flight or fight response. You, the writer, put your characters into the most incredible situations and then decide if they will confront the enemy or run away – or do something completely unexpected. But what really happens when a person confronts an assailant or has a panic attack?

Adrenaline is a hormone that is sometimes referred to as epinephrine, but only in American medical circles – and that word may be slowly dying out. Adrenaline is the word of choice in all popular media and around the world.

Your characters are likely to have more than one adrenaline rush on their way to the exciting climax in your story. It happens in response to trauma, shock or a sudden fright. The hormone bursts out of the adrenal glands and rushes around the body. The effects are dramatic and almost instantaneous, and your character might be overwhelmed by a range of symptoms. You could describe all of them in detail, or just focus on one or two. Here is a list to use as a guide.

Effects of an Adrenaline Rush

  1. Breathing rate rises rapdily
  2. Heart rate increases – the heart pounds against the chest wall
  3. Blood pressure rises – enough to cause a thumping pulse
  4. Feelings of pain vanish – even with terrible wounds
  5. Senses are heightened – causing sharper vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste
  6. Strength and aggression increase
  7. There is a burst of energy, with increased alertness

The effects are brief and once the initial excitement is over your character should return to normal – if they are still in one piece.

Other Impacts of Adrenaline

There are some other interesting impacts of adrenaline that you may find useful in your writing – especially when creating characters.

Adrenaline Junkies

Thrill seekers will look for any opportunity to produce an adrenaline rush. They have a compulsive desire for excitement and little regard for their own safety. Those characters are seen in many action thrillers, and may need a more dramatic form of shock or trauma to induce the classic adrenaline rush.


A person suffering from anxiety or having a panic attack is at the other end of the spectrum. They may have an extreme and debilitating adrenaline rush and a range of other symptoms if they feel threatened or under pressure. Their reaction could be caused by a minor, everyday situation that most people find harmless.

Heart Disease

If a person has pre-existing heart disease, an adrenaline rush could cause a heart attack that may, or may not, be fatal.


Anaphylaxis – also called anaphylactic shock – is the worst type of allergic response and can be lethal. A person must be severely allergic to an allergen, usually some type of insect venom, food or medicine. The response happens about twenty minutes after exposure. The symptoms are swelling of the face, tongue and throat, red skin and hives, vomiting, strained and noisy breathing, a drop in blood pressure and then unconsciousness.

It is always an emergency, life-threatening situation and an ambulance must be called. The best treatment is an injectable dose of adrenaline. That improves breathing, stimulates the heart, increases blood pressure and reduces hives and swelling of the face, throat and lips. People who are prone to suffering from this condition usually carry an injectable dose of adrenaline.

Remember the effects of adrenaline from the time you first develop your characters – and whenever they face a crisis.

What do you think?

Toni Pike




My thriller The Magus Covenant is now available at these online stores:





20 thoughts on “Adrenaline – A Simple Guide for Writers (Guest Post by Toni Pike)

  1. Thanks for the post. I get annoyed with thrillers that have characters performing outrageous feats under pressure without breaking a sweat. I’ve seen the symptoms so often in my nursing career and I’ve certainly come to expect them from fiction as well as real life. In the US we call the drug epinephrine, but the hormone is still referred to as adrenaline. Allergy sufferers carry what we call an epi-pen, the pre-loaded cartridge of epinephrine.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for dropping by and sharing your medical experience – I agree, so often the we see super-human feats being performed. A genuine, more realistic response from our heroes makes us care about them so much more.

      Liked by 2 people


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